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Video: The Permaculture Concept – Bill Mollison

18 October 2009 5 Comments

This is a post I wrote a while ago on my personal blog, but I think it’s really appropriate here. Plus I still don’t have much time to post anything new yet.

Don’t you hate it when you know you’ve seen something in a video (say, Bill Mollison talking about planting in guilds), but you can’t track it down again? By keeping brief notes alongside a rough timeline, I can search for those types of things and find them quickly. By posting my notes on this site, hopefully I’ll help lots of other people to do the same!

If you’re new to this whole permaculture thing, Wikipedia has a good background article on permaculture. In a nutshell, though, it’s a philosophy of land use that seeks to mimic natural ecologies so that land can be productively used indefinitely, without degradation or the need for external inputs.

The word permaculture was coined in the 1970s by two Australians, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. It is a portmanteau (blend/contraction) of the term “permanent agriculture”, as well as “permanent culture”.

This first video is a great introduction to the concept. Bill Mollison explains the history, development and ideas behind permaculture.

In case it disappears from Google Video, a lower-quality version is also available at YouTube (broken into six parts):

Notes

  • (00:00) we haven’t earned the right to go to the stars yet
  • “You wouldn’t welcome anybody who’d laid waste to their house and wanted to live in yours.”
  • some background/bio on Bill Mollison – was once a tree cutter!
  • at one stage, Bill walked away from society “disgusted with the human race”, but he returned after a few weeks, having decided to fight to improve things in a positive way
  • forest as a model of a working system
  • diversity makes the system highly adaptable and at the same time highly productive
  • “If we lose the universities we lose nothing. If we lose the forest we lose everything.”
  • all political systems (and most kings) through history have moved their countries towards desert
  • the ideas behind permaculture arose out of questions that had been asked by people in the 1890s, 1930s, 1960s about why society, with all its tools and resources, keeps falling into holes of its own making
  • permanent agriculture = permanent culture
  • we should build with living resources, not steel and glass
  • (10:00) shows how to set up a productive permaculture garden on a small apartment balcony to provide 1/5th of the food required by two adults
  • grapes grow well under the balcony above – no rain means no mould!
  • “most cannibals only eat strangers”
  • the rise of monoculture
  • today, over half the world’s agricultural production consists of just four crops: wheat, rice, maize and potatoes
  • over-simplification of nature (monoculture) gave rise to huge outbreaks of single pests, diseases
  • (15:00) agriculture as a continuation of World War II
  • since 1940, 70% of our soils have been destroyed
  • 40% of the world’s water has been poisoned by agriculture
  • permaculture design integrates plants, animals and humans into a living system
  • every element of the design has many functions
  • 1978 published “Permaculture One”
  • began designing farm systems for other landowners for free for 2 or 3 years (hundreds of properties!)
  • moved from designing to teaching others how to design – Permaculture Design Courses (PDCs)
  • permaculture lies between disciplines, connecting them together
  • permaculture groups started working to spread the word to the mainstream e.g. participation in agricultural shows in towns all over Australia
  • “modern agriculture is not a system for producing food, but for producing money”
  • “no-one yet pays for the damage at the end of the chain”
  • (22:10) demonstrates the creation of a simple potato patch “the best use for a newspaper”
  • “digging causes weeds, weeds cause work”
  • planting is a lot easier than weeding, and if you have enough plants in there is no room for weeds
  • untidiness in the garden is good, natural order
  • (25:40) description of swales for water retention to avoid droughts
  • 88% of Australia’s water runs off the landscape and is wasted
  • an animal is a mobile part of the forest, not separate from the forest
  • (28:00) guilds
  • get chickens out of battery cages and factories, and back into the garden where they can work for you
  • up to half of the system can be used to feed your animals, which gives much better results than buying external feed
  • in terms of energy cost, food would be about 95% cheaper if it were grown in the city (transportation, processing, packaging, retailing, etc costs)
  • we’re 3 days away from starvation at any time
  • (32:00) shows a suburban home design along permaculture principles
  • food and flowers all year long
  • beehives in the yard
  • lawns are a “green cancer”, completely unproductive, expensive to maintain, a waste of resources
  • (35:20) mangrove swamps are the most productive environment on the planet
  • rising sea levels are going to wipe out large areas of coastal cities (but maybe make them more productive!)
  • TVs watching nature films, 4WDs taking people to the wilderness – we could have it all in our own yards
  • Bill keeps planting seeds around the place like a “guerilla gardener”
  • (38:20) discusses genetic engineering and its unknown effects
  • scientists are basically sociopaths
  • only 3% of the planet’s water is fresh, and most of that is trapped in ice
  • 3 inches of leaf litter in a forest can absorb 1 inch of rainfall
  • rainforest can be looked at as a lake
  • forest evaporation forms clouds, forest bacteria become nucleus of ice crystals in clouds, so forest actually create rain
  • (42:45) farm in Queensland, turned from infertile ex-farmland into a productive environment
  • creating bush corridors to bring back birds and animals
  • (45:00) work in the third world to help restore food production
  • third world populations weren’t able to transition from hunter-gatherers to gardeners, leading to famine and desertification
  • the people have all the resources they need, just lack the information and skills to do it themselves
  • these third-world projects will become models that will need to be applied in the first world
  • (47:00) housing developments designed along permaculture principles
  • it’s time to stop calling permaculture an “alternative” movement, it needs to become part of the mainstream
  • gardening and food production should not be regarded as a side pursuit
  • (50:00) visits a garden that has been abandoned for about 3 years, yet is still productively growing plenty of food
  • “Will permaculture work?” “Will plants grow?”
Build your own chicken coop in 3 days.

5 Comments »

  • Karen Anne said:

    “If we lose the universities we lose nothing…scientists are basically sociopaths”

    How to make the world a better place, glorify ignorance. Oh, Wait.

  • Darren (author) said:

    @Karen Anne: As an engineer, I do balk at some of the things Bill says. I think what he really means is “science at the hands of profit-driven corporations”. He does have a predilection to dramatic and provocative comments, doesn’t he :-).

    Still, there is a lot of great information in his work. Don’t be tempted to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

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  • Manda said:

    Inspiring! Thank you for putting this up!

  • Marc said:

    just started with my permaculture garden on my balcony of 6.72m2. not a lot of space, so I need to be innovative. follow me here: http://psyan.eu/files/category-permacultuur.html